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Archpastoral Message on the Tragedy in Newtown

December 20, 2012

His Grace, the Right Reverend Michael, Bishop of New York, and the Diocese of New York and New Jersey, sends the following letter to the faithful among his diocese, reflecting on the tragedy that has occurred in Newtown, CT.

Beloved in the Lord,

Christ is in our midst!

The joyful anticipation of the Christmas celebration was shattered for many this past Friday, when the senseless murders of 27 schoolchildren and adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, thrust that community into unimaginable horror and pain. This tragedy goes against the nature of morality – and against the very order of nature itself. There is nothing natural about parents burying their children.

Many will ask, “Where was God when this happened?”

I too have asked this question… and I speak from experience, having lost my wife at 21 years of age, after only 29 days of marriage. The reality is that God was in the same place this past Friday that He was on that terrible and Holy Friday when His Son was nailed to the Cross for us. God the Father beheld that crime against His Creation, twenty centuries ago, just as He beheld this one, just days ago… and God the Son laid down His life then, that He might claim our lives back from the depths of sin and death, today and forever. Our answer… our only hope… is that Christ has turned the agony of death into the victory of Pascha.

And our Lord promised us to share in that victory in these incredible words, also spoken to a grieving family: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in Me, though may he die, yet he shall live” (John 11:25). In this awesome promise, we gain for ourselves – and can give to others – hope and consolation.

While the evil of this tragedy seems diametrically opposed to the joy and hope of the Christmas season, we recall that even the joyous coming of the Infant Messiah brought with it the slaughter of the innocents. The Church regards those sinless souls slain because of Christ, at the hand of Herod, as Saints and martyrs … and so we trust that these newly departed innocent souls, too, have been received into the arms of God, “where sickness, sighing, and sorrow have fled away.” And we have recourse in our grief to the Mother of God who, having lived the agony of watching her Son mocked, tortured, and murdered, shines forth as the ultimate model for us in the face of this tragedy. As she prayed for her Son at the foot of the Cross, even now she prays for and prays with the mothers, fathers, neighbors, and loved ones of the sons and daughters taken last Friday.

And so we know, in hope and in faith, that these innocent children have gone to God… we have hope also that the teachers and volunteers who laid down their lives for their students may be received by Him as martyrs of love – for “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). In their memory, we must work to ensure that evil does not continue to hold sway over the hearts of those who bear the grievous wounds of this tragedy. Accordingly, I urge you to pray for the repose of the victims, to pray and fast for the intentions of the grieving families, and to offer any help you can, both in prayer and in good works, for the healing of this heartbroken community.

I ask parish priests to continue praying for the victims and the survivors of these killings, and even for the man who committed this evil deed. A set of petitions for your consideration is enclosed below. I encourage those charged with teaching and youth ministry to be open to the questions and the fears of our young people as they struggle to understand what has happened. And I assure you of my own continual prayers for all those touched by this tragedy.

With my blessings, my prayers, and my love,

Bishop of New York and the
Diocese of New York and New Jersey

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